SAO PAULO (AP) — Only eight countries have ever won the World Cup, and in Brazil three of them face Group D underdog Costa Rica.
Coach Jorge Luis Pinto greeted them with a warning: “We respect England, Italy, and Uruguay. But they should know that we can play football too.”
In Saturday’s opener in Fortaleza, Pinto’s men take on a Uruguay side which has high hopes of improving on its run to the semifinals in 2010, despite the uncertainty hanging over striker Luis Suarez following knee surgery three weeks ago.
Hard-working Costa Rica resumed training within hours of arriving on Tuesday at their southern World Cup camp in Santos, where Brazilian great Pele used to play.
Key to their success as a Central American spoiler, says the coach, is the notion that the pressure will be on all three of their opponents to win.
“We will play without fear. We face three world champions and we can take them all on,” Pinto said. “What we feel is joy and motivation.”
Pinto’s plans could be rattled on Saturday if his loses central defenders Michael Umana and Junior Diaz, who are recovering from flu.
The Ticos are expected to rely on in-form goalkeeper Keylor Navas who plays for Spanish club Levante, and 28-year-old captain Bryan Ruiz, whose season was revived in the Netherlands after doomed Premier League club Fulham loaned him out to PSV Eindhoven before being relegated.
Ruiz guided the Costa Ricans as they efficiently went about the task of beating weaker opponents in qualifying to make their fourth World Cup appearance.
Against Uruguay, Pinto is more likely to use counterattacks, helped by Joel Campbell, an Arsenal striker on loan to Olympiakos who scored a superb goal for the Greek side in a 2-0 victory over Manchester United in the Champions League in February.
Uruguay may have more talent on the bench that many countries could hope for, but the South American nation is worried about the recovery of striker Suarez, who led Liverpool to the brink of its first league title in a generation and scored 11 goals in qualifying for his country.
The 27-year-old joined training on the sidelines at the Uruguay base near Belo Horizonte, and posted a video to fans on the Internet to assure them his recovery was going well.
Even his absence would leave coach Oscar Tabarez with the formidable Edinson Cavani, the Paris Saint-Germain striker who scored 16 goals in the French League this season, and the 35-year-old Diego Forlan, player of the tournament at the 2010 World Cup.
“Age affects things like speed and other player characteristics of the players, but Forlan is still a very big part of this team, bringing his experience, presence on the pitch and great shooting skill from distance,” Tabarez said.
Uruguay’s ambitions, Tabarez said, require a win in Fortaleza.
“The Costa Ricans are fast and they will try and make life difficult for us,” the 67-year-old coach said. “Costa Rica is a major obstacle and we have a lot of respect for them. But our intention is to get the three points.”
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